Don’t Leave Money on the Table: What You Need to Know About Need-Based Aid

Don’t Leave Money on the Table: What You Need to Know About Need-Based Aid

We’ve all heard about scholarships for the valedictorian or the star athlete, but it pays to remember that there are plenty of scholarship and grant opportunities out there for students that are based on need rather than accomplishments.

Unlike merit-based scholarships, that focus on your GPA or other special skills, need based grants and scholarships are awarded based on your ─ and your family’s ─ ability to pay for college. The federal and state governments determine most of this, but the schools you apply to have some pull in how much financial aid you get, too.

When looking for this type of need-based aid, it is imperative that you file the FAFSA (that’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This form is used by federal and state governments, as well as colleges to determine your level of need.

The FAFSA asks you to provide income and tax information from the prior-prior year. That means if you are applying for aid for the 2018-2019 school year, you will use information from 2016. When you complete the form, you list the schools you are interested in attending. Once the FAFSA is processed, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) which includes your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This tells you how much financial aid you’re eligible for at each school if you decide to go there.

Grants and scholarships for low-income students help to lessen the financial burden of college. Every year, millions of dollars in federal grant money goes unclaimed because students did not file the FAFSA. Even if your family is middle-class, you may qualify for a Pell grant award, so it’s wise to file the FAFSA, even if you don’t intend to take out student loans.

The form becomes available each year on October 1st, so mark your calendars now. You need to file the FAFSA every year if you want to apply for financial aid. If you’re looking for need-based funds, note that those who apply earlier tend to receive twice-as-much grant money on average than those who wait.

Related: Grants vs. Scholarships: I'm Confused